Zvi Feb/Mar 1999
In Israel, many of the ultra Orthodox people follow the age-old tradition of merrymaking at the graves of famous rabbis. They do this every year—it is a big part of their religious life. When they go to these graves for their annual time of jubilation, they also drop written requests on the graves, believing that the dead rabbis will answer their requests. It is not just a few people who follow this practice—it is done by thousands because this tradition has been passed down from fathers to their sons for many generations. Who can stop them from practicing this and many other superstitions? It is impossible! As it is written in Jeremiah 31:29, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
On those special days of celebration, I usually go among the people and talk with them. As a servant of the Lord, it is my duty to tell them how blind they are and that their worshiping of these great “holy ones” is in vain. Although I know that their ears are blocked and their eyes are blinded to the truth, I join them to try to show them the right way to worship the Lord. What they are doing will not bring them joy but sorrow.
“What is the cause of your great joy? Are you going to a wedding?” I asked some of the merrymakers recently. “Oh no!” they replied. “We are here to venerate our rabbis. They were great and holy men when they were living, and even now, if we make a request of them and put it on their graves, they will answer it.” I responded, “If I had a special request, I would never write it on a piece of paper and put it on those graves. You see, I have one to whom I can go and be sure that my request will be answered.”
They were surprised by my statement and asked, “Who is your rabbi?” I told them, “You can be sure that I never come to this cemetery and put my trust in these dead rabbis. Nor do I trust in living rabbis, who are just men—the same as you and I. Rather, I put my trust in the living God, and I know that He will always answer my requests. What you are doing now is exactly what the Lord does not want us to do.”
Then they began to look at me suspiciously and asked that same old question: “Who are you?” I replied, “I am one among many whose duty it is to warn you about the consequences of your evil ways. What could be clearer than the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20? There it is written, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any carved image, or any likeness of anything … Thou shalt not bear false witness’ [vv. 34a, 16a). Take a good look at yourselves. What are you doing right now? Whom are you going to worship? The Bible contains so many more warnings about worshiping false gods, such as Deuteronomy 16:21–22, ‘Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God, which thou shalt make thee. Neither shalt thou set thee up any image, which the Lᴏʀᴅ thy God hateth.’”
At this point, a few of these people seemed interested in what I was saying, but some of the others warned them, “Be very careful of this man. It is easy to see that he wants to turn us away from the traditions of our fathers.” I said to them, “You may be surprised to know that I came from an extremely ultra-Orthodox family. There was a time when I was certain that what our fathers said was holy. But eventually, when I opened my eyes and realized that I had been walking in darkness all of my life, I put aside all the books of tradition. Now I believe only the Bible—which was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God—rather than believing in the books of rabbinical tradition and Kabbalah [mysticism]. In the Bible I found the truth of God. You too can have the great opportunity to read the Bible and see what the Lord wants from us, how He expects us to worship Him.”
Some of them asked, “Shall we do what he says? Shall we look into the Scriptures?” But the others discouraged them. Then they began asking again, “Who is your rabbi?” I replied, “My rabbi—my teacher—is the Mighty God who is in heaven, not a dead man in one of these old graves. My rabbi is the one who is written about in a book of the Bible that your rabbis have shunned for so long.”
Someone asked, “Which book in the Bible have our rabbis shunned?” This gave me the opportunity to read to them Isaiah 53, which begins with the words, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lᴏʀᴅ revealed?” (v. 1).
One problem with witnessing in Israel is that you cannot march up to people such as these with the declaration, “You must believe in Jesus Christ!” Then you would completely lose them. Instead, you must go slowly and carefully, even if it takes a very long time. You must gently bring them around to the point where they begin to realize about whom you are speaking. You must clearly show them that you are speaking from only one book, the Holy Bible. When they understand this, they often become more interested and ask more questions.
By now, these people knew that I was speaking to them about the Lord Jesus, and, because I showed them these things from God’s own Word, they could not look me in the face and say that I was being untruthful. Unfortunately, although such people have studied all their lives, they do not know the truth of God’s Word because they rarely study it, so I read to them Isaiah 9:2, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” And, whereas their ears had been blocked before, now they were hearing very well. As it is written in Revelation 2:7, “He that hath an ear, let him hear … ”
These people really need our prayers, and I need your prayers as I continue to go among them, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.